The Importance of Stretching

Many Americans consider stretching to be placed on the back burner or gotten around to only if all other “more important” exercises have been completed with time to spare. Even others, namely men, have grown up with the misconception that stretching is purely a feminine activity that need not be practiced by the muscle-strengthening male species. The truth is: stretching is at the top of the list when trying to achieve optimum health and mobility. In a basket full of positive physical activities, stretching should be carefully added in a handful of times. Stretching before and after exercise will dramatically increase the benefits your body reaps from getting up and moving about to begin with. There are a few things to remember when considering the effectiveness of stretching.

Perhaps even before performing the actual stretches, it is important to become familiar with the why behind the what. The following can help clarify why stretching is such a valuable exercise within itself. While most exercises put the body at risk of numerous injuries such as tears in the ligaments of tendons, muscle strains, bone fractures, and fatigue, stretching acts in the opposite way. It improves muscle balance around joints and increases the fluidity and range of motion of these surrounding tissues. Stretching also effectively warms these soft tissues up to help prevent such injuries listed above. Stretching also helps increase blood flow and provides increased amounts of much-needed oxygen to all areas of the body. Added benefits are proven to include improved muscle tone, nicer physique, decreased muscle stiffness and cramping, enhanced flexibility, lessened back pain, better overall posture, improved circulation, greater muscle efficiency and ultimately a heighten total body performance. On another level, stretching directly aids in stress management and mental clarity.

There is no question that stretching is directly responsible for a plethora of physical, and even mental benefits; however, it important to perform this activity properly in order to prevent adverse effects. The when and how are very important when engaging in this activity. First of all, it is important to stretch before and after physical exercise. Stretching before the physical exertion of athletic activities, whether it be strength training or cardiovascular, is crucial because this is what warms the body up and prepares it to handle the pressure of what’s to come. It is equally important to stretch upon completing your routine exercise in order to relax the stressed muscles and elongate the soft tissues around the joints. Stretching after exercise should quickly follow, performed within ten minutes of completion so as not to let the body cool off. On the other hand, stretching should not commence without at least five to ten minutes of warm-up prior to the start of your exercise. Stretching while the muscles are cold, especially for someone who is not naturally athletic, can lead to adverse affects similar to the injuries stretching is intended to prevent. Even a brisk walk, exaggerated movements, jumping rope or slight jog will warm the body up enough in the beginning to stretch before working out. Also, contrary to what many people have learned, stretching should not be done to a particular count. It should be held until the muscle begins to feel relaxed inside the stretch to ensure maximum results.

It only takes an extra ten to fifteen minutes to stretch properly. Finding the time to stretch shouldn’t be nearly as difficult as actually creating a healthy habit to execute this exercise on a daily basis. But once you are able to discipline your mind and body into practicing this regimen, you will no doubt feel more energized while simultaneously being less burdened by aches and pains. Of all the exercises we push our bodies into, stretching should be at the top…well, the beginning…of our list.